THE DRAMATIC drop in milk prices has resulted in the Limerick economy losing out on €86 million worth of spending power compared to 2014, according to the ICMSA.
The farming body’s economists calculated the amount from the volume of milk produced and the fall in price from 38.4 cents per litre in 2014 to 28.5 cents in 2015.
Chairperson of Limerick ICMSA, Thomas Blackburn, described the figures as “astronomical” and he hoped that the scale of losses to counties like Limerick might shock politicians and policyholders out of their “torpor”.
“We have to remember that Limerick is, first and foremost, a dairy county and the revenue that flows back into the county when prices are strong is the difference between a good and bad year for every business in the region. Limerick produces around 10% of all the milk in the State.
“Limerick’s hinterland and businesses still rest to a significant degree on our disproportionately large and progressive dairy sector and we need some focus from our politicians and policyholders on getting milk price to farmers back up and into positive price territory, or we are going to see irreversible damage to what is still the biggest indigenous revenue earner for Limerick,” said Mr Blackburn, who is a dairy farmer in Effin.
He says men and women like him are not in income-falling figures anymore.
“We’re in income-disappearance figures and that is what observers have got to realise. It’s just not possible to operate from year to year in circumstances where your income can be up or down €30,000 to €40,000 but where your costs are always high and, indeed, always rising.
“There is no point in so-called experts saying that the price will come back up and everything will be rosy in the garden at that stage. Some farmers just won’t make it through these periods and we’ll lose more and more as these periods of extreme volatility become more and more frequent.
“The result will be the eventual destruction of the family farm system that has been the backbone of rural Ireland for generations. If we want to keep that – and personally I think it is one of the best things about our rural life - then we simply have to help our milk suppliers and design some way of averaging their incomes so that this kind of see-saw volatility doesn’t inflict irreparable damage on them,” said Mr Blackburn.
He points out that all farmers’ expenditures have gone up and many are also paying the costs of post-quota expansion like new milking parlours and sheds, as well as the €70 million superlevy.
“If we were working harder for the same money it would be bad enough.
“But where we are now, many farmers will be working harder for no income at all,” said Mr Blackburn, who hit out at the “non-interference policy” from the Government and the EU Commission. “They’ve called an Emergency Farm Council in four weeks time. What kind of emergency is that?” he concluded.